Last year, thanks to the incredible generosity of the Bakersfield community, I won the Woman of the Year fundraising contest put on by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

I was thrilled to be chosen as a participant, and for 16 weeks, my fellow nominees and I pulled out all the stops to raise both awareness about and money to cure blood cancer.

By the time it was over, I’d raised over $62,000 – a feat that never would have happened without an outpouring of community support. If I listed every person and local business that gave so generously to my campaign, I would fill pages and pages.

Because the fundraising window was so short, we knew we’d need to start with a solid strategy and put in a lot of work. Fifteen amazing women joined my team, attending weekly meetings, helping plan fundraisers and receiving community support from local businesses like Action Sports and SC Anderson Construction.

It was truly a team win.

As far as strategy goes, we decided to put most of our effort toward one big fundraising event – the Pajama Party – and host a few smaller gatherings along the way. With team member Sarah Watkins leading the way, the Pajama Party was a big hit. Who wouldn’t want to come out in their pajamas for amazing auction items, a band, plenty of drinks and food, a beauty bar and an opportunity to support a good cause? That event alone raised about $10,000.

Our smaller events covered all kinds of interests. Uniquely Chic Florist & Boutique held a fundraiser for us where all attendees got to make beautiful succulent arrangements and my team member Bri Moncier put on a volleyball tournament. Bellissima Medical Aesthetics even had a “Babes + Botox” party, offering free services in exchange for donations.

We weren’t just focused on collecting the most money, though. We really wanted to make sure people understood why they were donating. Our local Leukemia and Lymphoma Society helps Kern County patients and their families and we wanted to find creative ways to let people know that.

Each year, alongside the Man and Woman of the Year contests, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society selects a Boy and Girl of the Year. These children don’t fundraise. They and their families received assistance from the charity and they help the community see the value of their donations. This year’s girl, Evelyn Verdejo, and her mom, Katelyn, attended some of our events to tie a local story to our mission. I think people connected with that the most.

I’m still in awe of how much local businesses and individuals gave. Our community loves being part of something big and I think that’s why so many people showed up at events or gave donations.

My hope is that we continue to support charities that support our community directly. All of these charities need volunteers, so I hope you’ll find one that speaks to your heart and donate your time to.

Be generous in Bakersfield. 

Elizabeth Lehr-Cardenas, a local State Farm agent and mother, was named Woman of the Year by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society after raising over $62,000. The views expressed are her own.

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